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Canada Fights Outdated Prohibition-Era Wine Law

Canada Outdated Prohibition LawCanada is a country that struggles with outdated Prohibition-era wine laws, quite similar to those of the United States. As opposed to encountering restrictive laws with respect to interstate shipments, Canada grapples with laws from its own Prohibition time period that limit the importation of wine across the boundaries of its provinces. The Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act, first passed in 1928 as an effort to curtail bootlegging and Canada’s current law, makes it unlawful to transport wine bought in one Canadian province to another province without enduring the liquor control board of the second province. The text of the Act, in pertinent part, reads as follows:

Notwithstanding any other Act or law, no person shall import, send, take or transport, or cause to be imported, sent, taken or transported, into any province from or out of any place within or outside Canada any intoxicating liquor, except such as has been purchased by or on behalf of, and that is consigned to Her Majesty or the executive government of, the province into which it is being imported, sent, taken or transported, or any board, commission, officer or other governmental agency that, by the law of the province, is vested with the right of selling intoxicating liquor. R.S.C. 1985, c. I-3.

(Full Text is available at Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act, R.S.C. 1985, c. I-3.)

Canadians, like Americans who battle with antiquated shipment laws, are frustrated with the overshadowing of this dated law. Many Canadians believe the law, which was practical during the Prohibition era, remains as a means to sustain provincial liquor monopolies “in their quest to extract as many dollars as they can out of consumers” and is “detrimental to both consumers and to the development of the wine industry.” (See Media Personality Terry Mulligan Challenges Law Restricting Importing Wine Between Provinces.) To encourage changing the law, a Canadian media personality and host of the show Tasting Room Radio, Terry Mulligan, will challenge the law on May 13, 2011. Mr. Mulligan cites that he will “be at the B.C.-Alberta border to transport a bottle of B.C. wine across the line, then bring a bottle of Ontario-made wine back to B.C.” and “plans to notify the nearest RCMP detachment of his actions in the hope that police will attend.” (Id.) His plan, whereas somewhat daring, seeks to change what many feel is an outdated, restrictive law that limits the growth of the Canadian wine industry. As such, it will be interesting to see the legal results of Mr. Mulligan’s challenge.

DISCLAIMER: This blog post is not intended as legal advice, and no attorney-client relationship results. Please consult your own attorney for legal advice.

Lindsey A. Zahn


Lindsey is the founder and author of On Reserve: A Wine Law Blog. She is an alcohol beverage and food attorney and is admitted to the New York State Bar.

{ 5 comments… add one }
  • Marlene Rossmasn April 28, 2011, 4:52 PM

    For a class I taught last year on Pacific Northwest wines, I attempted to import ONE bottle of British Columbian Cabernet Sauvignon. Mind you, I am able to purchase wine from Croatia, Slovenia, Romania and every other godforsaken country in the world.

    In order to get the wine,THE WINERY had to fill out at least 30 pages of forms to get ONE bottle from BC to California. They very kindly did not charge me for the wine. But the amount of paper work was staggering.

    Marlene Rossman, MBA, MA
    President, Manhattan Wine Seminars, LLC
    Consultant/Lead Instructor, Wine Certificate Program
    University of California, Irvine
    direct line: (949) 679-4840
    fax: (949) 679-4841

  • John Bell May 1, 2011, 4:24 PM

    When governments become entities, and when those entities deliberately decide to not listen to the wants and needs of their citizens, then the best recourse for the citizens is peaceful civil disobedience to the end that government listens and makes demanded changes. Canada (and the US) are now at that point with respect to their antiquated and no-longer-relevant liquor laws. I applaud Mr. Mulligan for his heroism and wish him success. We in the US will be watching and learning from his actions.

  • Lindsey A. Zahn Lindsey A. Zahn May 3, 2011, 1:20 PM

    Well stated!

  • Lindsey A. Zahn Lindsey A. Zahn May 3, 2011, 1:22 PM

    Hi Marlene,

    I am actually not overly familiar with Canadian wine law, but I know its history with respect to prohibiting wine is somewhat similar to that of the U.S. It is something I will look into more detail at a latter point in time. Thanks for the question!


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